Predictions 2016: Marion Oswald

December 9, 2015

The road to hell is paved with good intentions and I predict that 2016 will be the year in which we decide the road to take. It will be the year that the public, private and third sectors step up their use of ‘Big Data’ and algorithmic data analysis to make decisions that affect individuals.

Good intentions over privacy fears will scupper projects that could be in society’s, cities’ or individuals’ best interests, dismissing what might be regarded as a duty to use valuable data. On the other hand, zeal for projects believed to be in the public good may mean concerns about the potential detrimental impact on particular individuals are downgraded, and the private sector will in general continue to put profit over privacy. Have we yet given enough thought to what a future might look like if risk, local decision-making or individual choice are taken away by the use of algorithms? What might the ‘drip-drip’ affect be? We have yet to get to grips fully with the fact that an increasing number of decisions are not based on information that we ourselves provide, but from exhaust data – by-products of our online activity – or from linking with other data – perhaps ‘public’ data such as Twitter messages – or by categorisation using algorithmic analysis.

I have previously expressed the view that continuing to focus on individual consent and legitimate interests of data controllers cannot hope to regulate these developments in the long term. We must ‘think different’ (as Apple used to say) and 2016 will be the year to do this. We need to develop a clear ethical framework under which Big Data and algorithmic analysis projects can be judged –a framework applicable across all sectors.

We need to find a better way of governing the private sector Internet and Social Media ‘States’. Under the draft Investigatory Powers Bill, the real State’s use of bulk datasets will be governed by warrant and Commissioner oversight. The governance of the private sector’s use of bulk data seems laughably weak in comparison.

{b}Marion Oswald is Senior Fellow in Law, Head of the Centre for Information Rights, University of Winchester. Twitter: @_UoWCIR{/b}